As Ohio crosses the line for cannabis, Europe keeps playing it safe

by Paul North

Ohio has become the largest US state to legalise cannabis as of 7th November 2023. This takes the total number of states with recreational markets up to 24. The legislation named ‘Issue 2’ legalises cannabis for recreational use for adults over the age of 21 and permits possession of up to 2.5 oz of flower or 15 grams of concentrates. 

Here in Europe such news is always received warmly – we know that as more states embrace cannabis, the pressure on the government to make changes at a federal level mounts. A move which will for many clear reasons increase the chance of further reform across Europe.

Ohio’s model will follow that of the other 23 states. While measures will be taken to avoid cannabis products being sold to minors, the process of procurement for adults will be similar to alcohol. Products in shops will be permitted to have marketing materials on them and the range of products will feel truly ‘recreational’. 

The market will embrace the legal industry offering opportunities for cultivators, distributors, sellers and a wide range of ancillary services to the industry. It is estimated the move will bring in an estimated $260 million in revenues for Ohio, a state with a population of 11.7 million.

While I recognise the fears that exist for an approach which treats cannabis like alcohol, there is no doubt such a model gives the industry the best chance of creating not only a fun and interesting model for consumers, but one which thrives – delivering positive cash flow and rewards for those who invest.

The legalisation in Ohio was pushed through by a campaigning group called the ‘Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’ (CTRMLA). This group used strong economic framing to help garner support among residents and even pointed out that the state was losing out to its sports rivals in Michigan who were profiting from Ohio residents crossing the state border to purchase cannabis.

While in Europe might look to Ohio with positivity and celebration, the reality is that the CTRMLA would face tough resistance adopting such frames here. The US model – which I would argue is fantastic for consumers and gives the industry the best chance of success – is met with heavy resistance from the public health lobby across Europe.

Germany is a fine example of how despite reaching the same conclusion of Ohio policy makers – that cannabis reform is necessary, the model of legalisation has rapidly transformed into a 5 year pilot and a heavily regulated social club model. This is a far cry from what is seen in the US.

The public health lobby has, of course valid concerns – cannabis is not without harm and a model of regulation should consider how it best protects the population from such harms. Yet a stroll too far down that path creates legislation, which doesn’t work and models that are not only dull for the consumer, but allow an illicit market to thrive. 

Unlike the US, in Europe I sense a disconnect between the public health lobby and those who understand markets, capitalism and the cannabis industry. While policy makers in Europe are learning that cannabis reform is a far more comfortable subject for the public, they are falling short of presenting recreational models of ideas which mirror states like Ohio.

It is time for the industry across Europe to recognise this and play a more active role in facilitating positive, evidence based and challenging discussion with policy makers. Cannabis is not without harm, but to end prohibition and replace it with a model that works we can’t just sit back and let the public health lobby take us down a clunky path of pilot projects and warning labels. If cannabis is truly safer than alcohol, let’s treat it as such and create a model which is fun. 

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